Movie titles don’t get much more generic and uninspiring than The Cold Light of Day, a phrase used for stark self-revelation, which, of course, is entirely irrelevant to the events of this film. I’m reminded of classic Steven Seagal titles like Out for Justice, Hard to Kill, or (my favorite) Out for a Kill, but even those implied a genre. This one could be anything.
It stars Bruce Willis, on the heels of his 2011 features Setup and Catch .44; to compare this recent output to those Seagal films would be an insult to Seagal. Waitaminute, you haven’t heard of Setup and Catch .44? There’s good reason for that, as neither received much of a theatrical release, and both were objectionably bad career-lows for the star.
The Cold Light of Day is just barely better than Willis’ past two films, but like those, he only has limited screen time here. Instead, the main attraction is Henry Cavill, coming off his role as Theseus in Immortals, and gearing up for next year’s Superman reboot.
Cavill is Will Shaw, a US businessman on vacation in Spain with his family, which includes dad (Willis), mom (Caroline Goodall), and brother Josh (Rafi Gavron). While sailing, Will has an argument with his father; he leaps off the yacht and swims to shore (that’s normal, right?), and then when he gets back…oh, no! Everyone has vanished.
Yeah, this is the old family-kidnapped-in-a-foreign-country formula, which dictates that neither the local police nor the US embassy will offer any kind of assistance (and are very possibly up to something shady), so our hero must spring into action, hook up with an attractive local girl (here played by Verónica Echegui), and save his family himself.
We’ve seen this all before in the 1980s in Roman Polanski’s Frantic and Arthur Penn’s Target, which The Cold Light of Day especially mimics, given the tenuous father-son dynamic and dad’s secretive background. More recently, Liam Neeson has delved into the genre with the slam-bang actioner Taken (and, to a lesser degree, the similarly-themed Unknown).
But The Cold Light of Day, as it grinds through the motions delivering little suspense, action, or drama, resembles none of these films so much as it does the recent Taylor Lautner-starring abomination Abduction.
This is third-rate material, given second-rate treatment, with a couple first-rate actors to fool you into thinking that it might be better. Sigourney Weaver, as the no-nonsense government agent, has the unfortunate distinction of appearing in both this and Abduction.
Director Mabrouk el Mechri previously made the (half-decent, but nothing spectacular) Jean-Claude Van Damme comeback vehicle JCVD; he lends Cold Light a few showy visuals, plenty of blue-drenched day-for-night photography, and a general incoherence during the (few) action scenes, which amount to a couple car chases and a shootout.
The Cold Light of Day is never overtly awful, and might even be an acceptable late-night cable diversion, but it’s utterly routine and unmemorable in every regard. The cast – Willis and Weaver are just collecting paychecks, and Cavill signed on before landing the Superman gig – got this thing into cinemas, but the material doesn’t deserve it.